Missing Bus Again

For those who follow my Twitter feed (@DadEnoughBlog), you’ve been watching while I rant and rave again.  (Which is why I’m doing a rare Saturday post on the blog.)

Yesterday afternoon, my phone started buzzing on my hip around quarter of five at the office.  I don’t have a texting plan, and almost no one texts me, but the fact that it was doing something said that my wife was trying to get my attention.

The Monster’s bus was late again.

Now, we’re not talking five or ten minutes, which it would have been if he had just been dropped off.  What had happened, in fact, was that the bus driver called the house to say that he was just arriving at Garrett Heights Elementary-Middle School at 4:40.  That would be over an hour late, since school ends at 3:30.

No one from the school had called to inform us that the bus had never arrived, and the driver had had to get a hold of his former bus aide (transferred off the bus after last week) to get my wife’s phone number to call himself to let her know about the delay.  The company, Durham Transportation, also called shortly thereafter, with what she described as a less than concerned attitude about the fact that the bus was not on time.  (They’re having “issues” again… and the bus driver informed my wife on drop-off (around 5:20) that he’d been diverted to cover part of another route.  We’re supposed to be understanding of how hard this is on them, apparently.)

So I did what I always do – I wrote to the school transportation office demanding an explanation, and carbon-copied the interim CEO of schools as well.  This is not the first time this year we’ve had this problem – it is simply a return to pattern for the vendor – and I’m getting tired of writing them on an almost monthly basis to deal with their vendor’s lack of performance.

This time… Baltimore City Public Schools is ignoring me.

I realize that it was a Friday evening…. but this might just be me.  If I were the head of transportation for a school district, I would be available from before the first student is picked up until the last one is dropped off.  I’d have a system constantly auditing that the busses are where they ought to be, and are making their pick-ups and drop-offs.  And I’d be responding to my email from an angry parent who has informed them that a bus was massively late.  (The Monster is usually dropped off around 4:40.)  Likewise for the CEO of schools, who is ultimately responsible for the schools and the employees of the district.

My son has rights.

He has a right to a free and appropriate public education.  He has a right to reasonable, safe and timely transportation to and from school when the school system decides to send him to a school entirely across the city from our home.

And I have rights.  I have a right to be notified when something “breaks” in the system, so I can take steps to deal with it… such as, say, going over to the school to pick him up.  I have a right to an explanation when my son’s rights are impinged upon.  And I have a right to an explanation regarding failures of the system in a timely fashion.

Now, I do have to give kudos to the principle at GHEMS.  While she could not give me an explanation for why we were not notified about the problem by her staff – she was actually not on-site due to a family issue – she did respond within a few hours of my email to let me know that she will investigate and get back to me.  That’s all I expect in the evening – a promise to investigate and report.  I’m not unreasonable.  I’m not expecting her to rouse her assistants from their beds and do a post-mortem on a Friday evening… but a clear line of responsibility and plan for resolution is sufficient to get me to wait till Monday.

But, the principle at GHEMS is not responsible for the bus – she can only tell me why we weren’t notified.  It’s BCPSS’s job to deal with the transportation, and they apparently think that ignoring me will make me go away.

(Now, I also heard from the student commissioner on the BCPSS board, who has also reached out to the higher-ups at the school system… but to no effect.  I appreciate his efforts, but I believe I told him that nothing would come of it… I think the school is now determined to just try to hope I go away.)

Ignoring me will not make me go away.  The Monster deserves better than that.  Plus, he’s five – a kindergartener – and we have R who is two.  We’re going to be here in the school system for a long, long time, and I am not going anywhere.

I think it’s time that the media started looking at this issue.  If my son – and the other special needs children on his bus – are having this problem, other busses in our district are having the same problem.  (And… I’d be complaining about the bus problems if he weren’t special-needs.  70 minutes is along enough bus ride as it is, and then adding a wait of an hour at the school for the bus to arrive?  Absolutely unreasonable.)   Durham Transportation needs to be sanctioned, and the responsible parties at BCPSS need to be fired, because they’re all clearly not doing their jobs.

(Now, it’s really tempting to get “Why does @BaltCitySchools hate [The Monster] #autism” trending, just to see how they react.  With the Monster’s real name, instead of his nickname, obviously.  But that’s not going to solve my problem.)

It’s been eighteen hours since this all happened, and not a peep from anyone with power at Baltimore City Public Schools.  I think I should start calling the local TV stations… what do you all think?

Edit: Just to be fair, let me specify what I really want:

  • I want to know why the bus was late.  An hour late is unacceptable, but I deserve a meaningful explanation.
  • I want to know what the penalty is for the poor performance.  A simple “we’ll deal with it” is not sufficient.  A descriptive “you will be fined” is not sufficient.  How much?  Is it a slap on the wrist or is it meaningful?  And what is BCPSS going to do to enforce the existing contract?
  • I want to know why I have to keep contacting BCPSS every time the bus is late – why aren’t they being proactive and monitoring the busses?
  • I want to know the terms of the contract with Durham.  I am – this afternoon – filling out the FOIA request for the contract and the performance bondholder information for Durham Transportation’s deal with BCPSS because I want the information.  I think I deserve to know what they’re being paid for taking my child to/from school, and I think the bondholder deserves to know that they’re doing a crappy job.
  • I want responsible parties at BCPSS to be fired for non-performance, per point #3.  I’m clearly doing their job more than they are.

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